For the past five months I have been processing the Blake Alexander collection at the Alexander Architectural Archive. The collection belonged to Drury Blakeley Alexander, an ardent supporter of the Architecture and Planning Library, the namesake of its Archive, and an architecture professor and architectural historian. I’m writing today to tell you a little more about Blake.
Blake was born in Paris, Texas on February 4th, 1924. His mother was Katherine and his father Drury Blakeley. The world that Blake was born into in Paris was one of architectural growth and change. The city suffered a devastating fire in 1916, so when Blake and his brother John were growing up in the 1920’s, there was an incredible amount of re-building happening all around them. This, coupled with the significant examples of nineteenth century architecture which did survive, caused Blake to develop a deep appreciation for architecture, its history, and the way that it is influenced by and influences the places in which it exists.
After a stint at Paris Junior College, Blake made his way to the University of Texas in 1942 to study architecture, but was called away to serve in the United States Army. When he returned to the University in 1946 he had a taste of Europe and his path as an architectural historian was settled. He received his Bachelor of Architecture in 1950. At the time the study of architectural history was based in art history, and Blake sought out the guidance and advice of a young and vibrant art historian named Marian Davis. Blake and Marian began what would become a life-long friendship. She encouraged Blake to return to class, and he received his Bachelor of Science in Art. After that, he went on to Columbia University where he earned his Master of Arts in Art History in 1953.
It was only natural that Blake would be drawn back to the University of Texas. He spent time in Austin as a youngster, staying with family members who had a home on Wichita Avenue, before the 40 Acres’ inevitable growth had enveloped it. His grandfather’s sister, Ada Stone, was married to H.Y. Benedict, an early University president. And in his memoir, Oral Memoirs of Drury Blakeley Alexander, he said, “in Paris, of course, it was just the University” (28). So after a year teaching at Kansas State University, he came back to teach at his alma mater.
Blake’s professional career includes numerous achievements, which I will cover in another post. He passed away on December 11th, 2011. Later the following spring his friends and colleagues convened to remember the man’s illustrious career and life. I never had the opportunity to meet Blake, but I feel like I’ve gotten to know him a bit these past five months. His collection speaks to the fact that he was a constant professional, always a gentleman, and appreciated a good joke. His commitment to the education of architecture students at The University of Texas at Austin was never in question. He supported the library and developed the collections which would become the Archive which would bear his name. And to ensure that these materials would remain accessible, and the collections remain vibrant and relevant, he left as a final legacy a significant financial gift. The Blake Alexander Architectural Library Endowment will fund the purchase and maintenance of materials for generations of architecture students, and for that we are most thankful to Blake.
Come back for more updates about Blake’s collection, to be posted soon.